It can feel great when someone asks you to be their mentor. It means that they highly value your input and want to model at least part of their life after you. Mentoring can often be a bit intimidating at first. What can I truly offer someone else? I’m not some wise sage that gives out advice? What if I lead them astray?
Let me encourage you that you can be a great mentor without being Yoda.
If you tell yourself that you aren’t worthy to mentor someone, you will become a self-fulling prophecy. Have confidence that the person wants to hear and learn from you. Having confidence doesn’t mean you have to act like a know-it-all or makeup answers if you don’t have one. Confidence is avoiding the imposter syndrome to lead in a meaningful and relaxed way.
Listen more than you talk
Just as you should do in your regular leadership, you should listen more than you coach in mentoring sessions. Although the person is there to hear from you, you need to understand where they are and all the details of the situation before you dispense your knowledge.
I’ve seen mentoring relationships fizzle out because the mentor spent the entire time talking. Afterward, the mentor is at a loss as to why it didn’t work out or will point to a personality difference. No matter how much your mentee looks up to you, they don’t want to just listen to a lecture and stories the whole time that you are together. Have a goal to learn something new about your person after each session.
Keep a neutral approach
A mentor should want their person to be successful. That doesn’t mean that you always have to take their side in an issue that they are going through in life or at work. In fact, the more neutral you are, the more it requires the person to step back, reflect and have a bigger view of what the situation is.
Know your limits
I caution leaders and mentors not to lose their effectiveness by bringing on too many people to coach. It can be tempting to pick up more than you can handle once you get the hang of mentoring and start to see the fruits of your efforts.
Be aware of your load, the commitment level to each person and set parameters for the length of the mentorship. Perhaps it’s while the person is in college, or until they find a job. Mentorships don’t have to be lifelong commitments to each other. I typically do year-long commitments and then evaluate based on their progress, who else wants to be mentored, and my current life load.
Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good mentor. Recognize your workload, listen and be the guide that the person wants you to be. Invest in your person so that they can develop others.
I owe a lot of my success in life to my mentors and advisors who have helped me along my life journey. Their guidance kept me on the right path when things got confusing, helped me make the right decisions during difficult times and supported and encouraged me in my growth.
Where do you look to find a mentor and how do you go about starting that kind of relationship? It can be less intimidating if you know where to look and how to go about it.
Look inside your company
This can be very challenging if you work in a company that is either really small or really large. If it’s small, you just don’t have a large pool to choose from. If it’s exceptionally large, it becomes so big that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin.
If you utilize your professional network to help you find a mentor be sure to follow these steps:
The mutual connection should reach out on your behalf to the potential mentor first to see if they would be interested.
Reach out to the potential person after your connection says that it’s ok to contact.
Introduce yourself and set up an introduction time that’s informal and works around their schedule.
Skipping these steps and trying to establish a mentor relationship cold will not likely end as you want it to. They may not know who you are, your request can catch them off guard and the person may not be in a place to be able to take you on.
Look outside your company
Don’t neglect your network outside your company when searching for a mentor. Your church, family friends, and other community connections all have significant value. It’s also ok to have a couple of mentors that have different strengths and perspectives to help you along the way.
Respect and give back
There shouldn’t be a one-way street between you and your mentor where you are taking all the value and adding nothing in return. Look for ways to add value back to your mentor. This could be by lightening their load in some way, offering your own expertise on a topic, or using your network to help grow theirs. No matter your life stage, you have something that you can offer back.
Be sure to show up on time and prepared when you have time with your mentor. It shows them that you have respect for their time and that you value the time that you have together.
Ensure that it’s the right fit
The person that you want as a mentor may be a highly successful business executive and lives in a home that looks just like your dream house. No matter how much you want the relationship, it will never work out if the two of you do not fit personality-wise. Just as in all relationships, without chemistry, there can not be a long-lasting meaningful relationship.
Getting to know the potential mentor a little on a personal level before you enter into that relationship is helpful. If that’s not possible, use the first meeting to get to know each other and see if you are a match for each other. It’s best to know early and not pursue then you both lose engagement early on. That time could be used on a mentor that you hit it off with instead.
Finding the right mentor can truly accelerate your personal and professional growth.